A review of Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam CoverThe Englewood Review of Books has published a friendly two-part review, written by Rachelle Eaton, on my edited volume Tikkun Olam – To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts. Rachelle has picked up on the story told in Mark 14.39 and referred to a number of times in the book, of the woman who anoints Jesus (i.e., prepares his body for its forthcoming burial) with ‘very costly ointment’, as a way into reflecting on one of the recurring themes to surface in the book. You can read her review here and here.

For those interested, you can also read earlier reviews by Geoffrey ColmerPeter LeithartJeff Johnson, Lynne Baab, and Alistair McBride.

 

Tikkun Olam – a review by Lynne Baab

Tikkun Olam CoverJason Goroncy (editor), Tikkun Olam – To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014). ISBN: 9781610979221; 208pp.

A guest review by Lynne Baab

In recent years, congregations are engaging more intentionally with the arts. Music and, to some extent, poetry and drama have always played a role in congregational life and worship, but now the visual arts are becoming more prominent as well. Increasingly, congregations display or even create visual art during worship. Some congregations have established temporary or permanent art galleries showcasing artists and craftspeople from within or outside the congregation. Christians are discovering that the all the arts – visual art, music, theatre, poetry, etc. – are a wonderful way to make connections with the wider community. In the midst of this growing interest, theological reflection about theology and the arts is welcome.

Tikkun Olam gives the opportunity for us to listen to a range of voices on this relevant topic. Several of the voices will be well known to New Zealand Presbyterians. Contributors include Professor of Theology and Presbyterian minister Murray Rae, Presbyterian minister Jono Ryan, and Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership Intern Carolyn Kelly Johnston, and the editor of the volume is Jason Goroncy, Lecturer and Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre. Most of the ten chapters in the book began their life as presentations at a 2011 symposium and art exhibition in Dunedin. Two of the chapters are written by internationally known writers and speakers on Christianity and the arts: William Dyrness, Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Trevor Hart, Professor of Divinity and Director of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews. The additional contributors come from New Zealand, Australia and North America.

Jason Goroncy, in his Introduction, mentions that the opening two words of the title, Tikkun Olam, appear first in the Mishnah and can mean ‘repairing’, ‘mending’, ‘welfare’, ‘perfection’ or ‘healing’ of the world. The choice of title indicates the role that contributors believe the arts play, which includes an acknowledgment that things are not right with the world and that Christians need to explore all possible means to bring healing. Jason expands on this idea by citing Rowan Williams, who writes about the ‘acute awareness of the world not being at home in itself’. Artists, Jason believes, are called to speak responsibly into that reality, ‘to speak with fidelity not only to time but to eternity, and to acknowledge the meaningful relation of both to human being in the world and, in so doing so, dignify the human condition’. Jason quotes a W. H. Auden poem and notes that the poem describes the role of poetry in pointing ‘the way toward healing and toward a renewed sense of enchantment, freedom and praise beyond the pedestrian and clamorous’.

I particularly like the subtitle of the volume which avoids the temptation to focus on a biblical basis for the arts or a theological foundation for engagement with the arts. ‘Confluence’ implies overlaps and reflection, and the essays accomplish that task well. I’ll illustrate what that confluence looks like by describing the chapters written by people familiar in the PCANZ.

Jono Ryan, minister at Highgate Mission in Dunedin and New Zealand coordinator of Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, has titled his chapter, ‘Questioning the Extravagance of Beauty in a World of Poverty’. Using the story of the woman who poured the expensive jar of ointment on Jesus’ feet (Mark 14:3–9), Jono describes the reasons why questions about the extravagance of art might be asked today in the light of world poverty. He affirms the significance of the questions, but also argues that the woman’s ‘excessive’ action has true parallels with Christ’s extravagant gift to us on the cross. He acknowledges that we cannot definitively solve this question but that we need to keep wrestling with it: ‘To be a follower of Jesus means, among other things, to live attentive to the cry of the poor. But it also means to live attentive to the beauty of God, which does not distance itself from poverty and injustice, but seeks to transform it’.

Carolyn Kelly’s chapter is entitled ‘Reforming Beauty: Can Theological Sense Accommodate Aesthetic Sensibility?’ Using Jane Austen’s book Sense and Sensibility as well as the same story Jono cited about the woman anointing Jesus’ feet, Carolyn discusses some of the history of theological ‘sense’ juxtaposed with artistic ‘sensibility’. She argues that theology and the arts must meet each other in order for us see the aspects of both that ‘we have become inured to’.

Murray Rae’s chapter, ‘Building from the Rubble: Architecture, Memory and Hope’, focuses on architecture after disasters, including World War 2 and September 11. He cites the architecture of the Jewish Museum in Berlin as an example of the way a building can help people process grief, participate in the world’s brokenness and move toward healing. Murray writes: ‘Architecture itself cannot heal our brokenness. But what we build and how we build it can reveal the extent to which the Spirit is at work within us, nudging us toward forgiveness and reconciliation and a true mending of the world’.

The other chapters include these titles: ‘The Artist’s Role in Healing the Earth’, ‘Cosmos, Kenosis and Creativity’, ‘Living Close to the Wound’, and ‘New Media Art Practice’, showing the range in the essays. I long for congregations and their leaders to continue to grow in seeing the arts as a way to experience God’s beauty and engage with the wider culture. This volume made me think more deeply about the role of the arts in healing the world.

Lynne Baab is the Jack Somerville Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at the University of Otago and Adjunct Tutor at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Tikkun Olam – a review by Alistair McBride

Tikkun Olam CoverJason Goroncy (editor), Tikkun Olam – To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014). ISBN: 9781610979221; 208pp.

A guest review by Alistair McBride

My review copy arrived on the day National Radio were playing the third of the 2013 Reith lectures featuring the potter, Grayson Perry, speaking in Londonderry on the role of art in society with the title, ‘Nice Rebellion: Welcome in’. The introduction focussed on the role of shock and rebellion then he commented on the nature of pluralism, marketing and attitudes. He said:

‘Detached irony has become the kind of default mode of our time in the art world … it was dangerous when art became synonymous with shock, which it did for a while in the sort of 1990s. There was so much art that was seen as shocking that it became what people looked for when they went to art, when in fact you know art can be lots of different things’.

In recognising that multi-role function, Grayson was able to extend the discussion beyond the simplistic ‘Art as shock’ motif. That became clearer in a response to a question where he said, ‘Art does have a very powerful thing that it can offer you and that is you know when you get involved in making something, you kind of forget yourself for a moment as well; and you also, in little ways you are affecting the world. You know if you feel powerless and depressed or something, if you’re making something you are in a small way changing the world. You do have that power, you do have that opportunity’.

This collection of papers from the symposium all offers approaches to this second view of art. They traverse a range of the arts looking at poetics, aesthetics, literature, painting, architecture, multimedia worship and song. Some offered a more theological, others philosophical, while two contributions were self-reflective with a quite personal approach.

Goroncy’s Introduction provides an excellent overview of the theme with pointers as to how each essay fits into place, as well as some commentary as to where the idea of ‘tikkun olam’ has developed from, namely the Mishnah and its revival in the 16th century by Rabbi Luria (p. 14). Goroncy builds a framework for us using W. H. Auden and Rowan Williams as points of intersection. The theme leads ‘with “unconstraining voice” the way towards healing’ in a world which is dislocated by its hurt and ‘busy griefs’ (p. 2). He understands the essays are ‘birthed upon the premise that artists and theologians can help us to see and hear better’ (p. 5). Underlying such a claim is the idea that there is a truth about the world and that truth telling reveals both present condition and future possibilities, and that for the Christian, ultimately that truth telling is grounded in the divine revelation which illuminates human lives and concerns. He concludes with a description of a leitmotif that runs through most of the essays, that of the question of beauty and its place in the search for the justice of which the kingdom speaks, and responses to the various answers given to that and the hope for the world that is engendered.

I found I responded to the essays in different ways. The most accessible were the offerings of Libby Byrne and the conversation between Joanna Osborne and Allie Eagle. Each used images by the artist that gives the reader a sense of where the journey of each has taken them, as well as allowing an appreciation of the imagery used and how it illustrates the theme. I have always appreciated having commentary with titles for works of art so that I can reflect on what I am looking at and these two pieces of work provide that. I found myself clearly engaged with Libby’s story and her exploration of the wounds in the world through her own work and that of Anselm Kiefer. In her conclusion she speaks of having chosen to live close to the wound so that she is ‘open to the possibility of being transformed, made more whole than [she has] been before’ (p. 111).

The second pair was Murray Rae’s and Steven Guthrie’s essays using architecture and music. Rae’s exploration of Daniel Libeskind’s work in Berlin and his approach that won him the competition for redeveloping the Ground Zero site in New York was enlightening. It showed how the work of architects is also to be included in this mending of the world through what we build and how we build it to ‘reveal the extent to which the Spirit is at work’ (p. 150). In a quite different way, Guthrie’s exploration of our contemporary environment, drawing from both the Psalms and from Pythagoras’ idea of the music of the spheres, offered a new way to understand the act of communal singing, both choral and congregational. Each of these essays gave the reader something to hang their understanding on.

Carolyn Kelly and Jonathan Ryan both take as their focus the Markan story of the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus. Carolyn explores how aesthetics has become lost from theological discourse particularly in the Protestant sphere, while Jonathan explores notions of beauty and extravagance using this story as the vehicle to address the issue of poverty and injustice. Each adds something to our reading of the text as well as inviting the reader to explore how art might have a role to play in our wider understanding of mending the world.

Julanne Clark-Morris explores the role of multimedia in worship. As she used two video pieces in her presentation that cannot be accessed through the medium of print, the essay becomes something of a taster with the promise of more behind it.

The last group of essays – by Bill Dyrness, Trevor Hart and John Dennison – all use literature and come across as more academic pieces. John Dennison’s essay on Seamus Heaney’s prose poetics I found heavy going and will need careful re-reading. I was unsure of which voice I was to hear – Heaney’s, the critics’ or Dennison’s; yet Heaney’s faith and his understanding of the role of poetry and the poetic imagination in the world certainly address the theme of the book.

Most of the essays give very good bibliographies that enable the reader to explore their own responses to each presentation. This has been a rich experience exploring a side of the world that I don’t often appreciate, and as one whose personal world is in need of mending I found particularly in Byrne’s essay something that, for me, makes the whole collection a worthwhile addition to my library.

– Alistair McBride is the minister of Scots and St Stephen’s Presbyterian Churches, Hamilton.

Tikkun Olam, now available on Kindle

Tikkun Olam CoverA quick note: the Kindle edition for my latest edited volume, Tikkun Olam – To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts, is now available from Amazon in the U.S., UK, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, India, Japan, Italy, and Mexico.

Those in Australia can download a copy from here.

For those after a paper copy, the publishers, Wipf and Stock, are selling discounted copies for under US$21. Details here.

Now available: Tikkun Olam—To Mend the World

Tikkun Olam CoverI am delighted to announce that my latest edited volume – Tikkun Olam—To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts – is now available. It has received kind endorsements from Jeremy Begbie and Paul Fiddes, and the Table of Contents reads:

Foreword: Alfonse Borysewicz
Introduction: Jason Goroncy

1. “Prophesy to these Dry Bones”: The Artist’s Role in Healing the Earth — William Dyrness
2. Cosmos, Kenosis, and Creativity — Trevor Hart
3. Re-forming Beauty: Can Theological Sense Accommodate Aesthetic Sensibility? — Carolyn Kelly
4. Questioning the Extravagance of Beauty in a World of Poverty — Jonathan Ryan
5. Living Close to the Wound — Libby Byrne
6. The Sudden Imperative and Not the Male Gaze: Reconciliatory Relocations in the Art Practice of Allie Eagle — Joanna Osborne and Allie Eagle
7. Building from the Rubble: Architecture, Memory, and Hope — Murray Rae
8. The Interesting Case of Heaney, the Critic, and the Incarnation — John Dennison
9. New Media Art Practice: A Challenge and Resource for Multimedia Worship — Julanne Clarke-Morris
10. Silence, Song, and the Sounding-Together of Creation — Steven Guthrie

A brief section from the Introduction provides a summary of each chapter:

The essays compiled in this volume, each in their own way, seek to attend to the lives and burdens and hopes that characterize human life in a world broken but unforgotten, in travail but moving toward the freedom promised by a faithful Creator. Bill Dyrness’s essay focuses on the way that the medieval preference for fiction over history has been exactly reversed in the modern period so that we moderns struggle to make a story out of the multitude of facts. Employing Augustine’s notion of signs as those which move the affections, the chapter develops the notion of poetics as the spaces in peoples’ lives that allow them to keep living and hoping, suggesting one critical role that art can play in imagining another world, a better world. For art offers to carry us to another place, one that doesn’t yet exist, and in this way offers hope and sustenance to carry people through the darkest times. This is illustrated by the outpouring of Haiku after the recent tsunami in Japan, or in the spaces made available for poetry in Iraq. Most importantly, it is underwritten by the centrality of lament in the biblical materials wherein we are reminded that lament and prophecy provide aesthetic forms that carry believers toward the future that God has planned for the world.

The essay by Trevor Hart considers the place of human “creativity” (artistic and other sorts) and seeks to situate it in relation to God’s unique role as the Creator of the cosmos. It draws on literary texts by Dorothy Sayers and J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as theological currents from Jewish writers and Christian theologians, to offer a vision of human artistry as (in Tolkien’s preferred phrase) “sub-creation,” a responsible participation in a creative project divinely initiated, ordered, and underwritten, but left deliberately unfinished in order to solicit our active involvement and ownership of the outcomes.

Beauty, Hans Urs von Balthasar has suggested, is “a word from which religion, and theology in particular, have taken their leave and distanced themselves in modern times by a vigorous drawing of boundaries.” More recently, a number of theologians have addressed this distance and attempted to dismantle the boundaries widely assumed between certain Protestant theologies and the realm of the arts or aesthetics. In her essay, Carolyn Kelly seeks to contribute to that communal exploration by addressing the particularly imposing boundary line demarcating, on the one hand, Reformed affirmations of the beauty of Truth and, on the other, a Romantic commitment to the truth of Beauty. Kelly reflects on what Romantic and aesthetic “sensibility” might gain from its modern counterpart and, in turn, what Reformed theological “sense” might have to gain from a re-cognition of Beauty.

But what place is there for extravagant works of beauty in a world tarnished with the ugliness of poverty and injustice? This is a question taken up by Jonathan Ryan in his essay. Beginning with the recollection of the disciples’ objection to an extravagant act of beauty retold in Mark 14:4, Ryan allows the “anointing at Bethany” narrative in Mark 14 to frame this question and to suggest the legitimacy—and necessity—of works of beauty and creativity for bearing witness to God’s extravagant love for the world.

Libby Byrne’s essay explores the premise that the artist’s calling is to “live close to the wound.” Locating this contention within the nexus that seems to exist between art, theology and philosophy, she argues that we are able to consider the prevailing conditions required for the artist to work toward the task of mending that which is broken, and, drawing on theory from Matthew Del Nevo and Rowan Williams, Byrne helps us understand the importance of melancholy and vulnerability in the sacramental work of human making. She provides examples of how this theory may work in practice with particular reference to the work of Anselm Kiefer and finally with her own studio practice, reminding us that it takes courage to choose to live and work close to our wounds, and also that by so doing the artist not only opens themselves to the possibility of transformation but also offers to others gifts that reverberate within the world and that call us to healing and wholeness.

New Zealand artists Allie Eagle and Joanna Osborne discuss the Sudden Imperative, Eagle’s art project that reframes much of the ideology she held as a feminist separatist during the 1970s. They also outline a reappraisal of direction and motivation in Eagle’s thinking and highlight the theological and reconciliatory center of her current art practice.

Murray Rae takes up the question posed by Theodor Adorno following the Jewish Holocaust and considers whether art can have anything at all to say in the face of evil or whether some evils might, in fact, be unspeakable. Through a consideration of architecture and, in particular, the work of Daniel Libeskind at Ground Zero and in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Rae contends that while architecture, along with the arts more generally, has no power to redeem us, much less to make amends, it can nevertheless give expression to our memories, our sorrow, and our penitence. He concludes that art may also reveal the extent to which the Spirit is at work within us, prompting us toward forgiveness and reconciliation and a true mending of the world.

In his essay on the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, John Dennison argues that one of the most notable—and least understood—aspects of Heaney’s trust in the good of poetry and the arts in general is the way in which his account approximates religious faith. Some critics have been encouraged toward the conclusion that Heaney’s poetics constitutes an active (if heterodox and often apophatic) extension of Christian theology through the arts. Most importantly here, John Desmond in his book Gravity and Grace argues that Heaney’s writings assume certain fundamentals that mark his transcendental cultural poetics as Christian. Central to Heaney’s thought, Desmond insists, is the doctrine of the Incarnation. Christian doctrine, and in particular the doctrine of the Incarnation, is indeed central to understanding the character of Heaney’s public commitment to the restorative function of art. But, Dennison argues, if we attend to the development and structures of Heaney’s thought, we can see how this influential account of the arts’ world-mending powers is not so much extensive with Christian soteriology as finally delimited by the biblical and theological descriptions it knowingly appropriates. It allows us to see, also, the degree to which Heaney’s trust in the adequacy of poetry turns on a refracted after-image of Christian doctrine, particularly that of the Incarnation.

Julanne Clarke-Morris’s offering proposes that multimedia worship and worship installations would benefit from a more consistent approach to aesthetics and context than is often the norm. She suggests that new media art forms offer communities of faith a range of ready-made critical practices that could amiably be brought to bear in the case of liturgical installation art. Seeking to draw attention to the coherence and communicative power of multimedia liturgical installations in order to improve both their accessibility and artistic credibility, she investigates some significant insights from virtual reality art, immersion art, multimedia installation art, and site-specific art as resources for preparing worship installations and assessing their effectiveness.

The closing essay, penned by Steven Guthrie, bears witness to ways in which Christian scripture and the Christian theological tradition both testify to a natural world that has a voice; one that not only speaks, but sings. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah speaks of mountains and hills “bursting forth in song” (Isaiah 55), and St John exiled on the island of Patmos listens with astonishment to “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth” singing (Revelation 5). This idea is taken up in turn by Augustine, Boethius and many others in the tradition, where it is often joined to the Pythagorean idea of “the music of the spheres.” According to this tradition, all of creation comprises a finely tuned symphony, the combined voices of which articulate the Creator’s praise. This tradition of thought—conceiving of the world as a singing creation—is a valuable resource for all who hope to faithfully care for God’s world. The musical creation described by Augustine and other theologians is a beautiful and profoundly interconnected cosmos, filled with an astonishing harmony of human and non-human voices. In this universal song, humans have a vital but circumscribed role. Silence, song and harmony have the capacity to make us more—or less—fully aware of, and more—or less—responsive to the world we inhabit. Music may act as a kind of aural armor by which we shut out the voices of the creation and others who inhabit it. It may also be a weapon by which we dominate the surrounding space. Or music may be a schoolmaster from whom we learn attentiveness and responsiveness, and with which we might join with all creation to participate in God’s symphonic work of healing the creation.

More information about the book is available here.

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki on Christianity and Māori Art and Architecture

The Crucified Tekoteko by Darcy NicholasIn July this year, the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Otago hosted the first of what promises to be a biannual lecture series in honour of Professor Albert Moore. This year’s lectures were delivered by Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Professor of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, and addressed the theme Toi Karaitiana: Christianity and Māori Art and Architecture’.

For those who missed these lectures, or would like to experience them post festum, these are now available:

  • Lecture 1: From Samuel Marsden to Frederick Bennett: Te Hahi Mihinare (23 July) [Video; Audio]
  • Lecture 2: From Patoru Tamatea to Ralph Hotere: The impact of Catholic spirituality and iconography (24 July) [Video; Audio]
  • Lecture 3: Regret and resistance – The Crucified Tekoteko (25 July) [Video; Audio]

My friend Andrew has also provided a wee summary of the lectures here.

An update on “Tikkun Olam”—To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts

Tikkun Olam CoverRecently, the publishers, essayists and myself have picked up a gear or two with the final edits on the forthcoming book “Tikkun Olam”—To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts (Pickwick Publications). The book is a collection of essays premised on a very basic conviction that artists, theologians and others have things to learn from one another, things about the complex interrelationality of life, and about a coherence of things given and sustained by God. The essays therein attend to the lives and burdens and hopes that characterize human life in a world broken but unforgotten, in travail but moving towards the freedom promised by a faithful Creator. More specifically, they reflect on whether the world – wounded as it is by war, by hatred, by exploitation, by neglect, by reason, and by human imagination itself – can be healed. Can there be repair? And can art and theology tell the truth of the world’s woundedness and still speak of its hope?

The Foreword was written by New York-based artist Alfonse Borysewicz, and the Table of Contents reads thus:

  1. Introduction—Jason Goroncy
  2. “Prophesy to these Dry Bones”: The Artist’s Role in Healing the Earth—William Dyrness
  3. Cosmos, Kenosis and Creativity—Trevor Hart
  4. Re-forming Beauty: Can Theological Sense Accommodate Aesthetic Sensibility?—Carolyn Kelly
  5. Questioning the Extravagance of Beauty in a World of Poverty—Jono Ryan
  6. Living Close to the Wound—Libby Byrne
  7. The Sudden Imperative and Not the Male Gaze: Reconciliatory Relocations in the Art Practice of Allie Eagle—Jo Osborne and Allie Eagle
  8. Building from the Rubble: Architecture, Memory and Hope—Murray Rae 
  9. The Interesting Case of Heaney, the Critic, and the Incarnation—John Dennison
  10. New Media Art Practice: A Challenge and Resource for Multimedia Worship—Julanne Clarke-Morris
  11. Silence, Song, and the Sounding-Together of Creation—Steven Guthrie

Also, Jeremy Begbie and Paul Fiddes were kind enough to read the manuscript and to provide the following endorsements for the book:

‘Artistically sensitive, theologically rich, and eminently readable – this is a rare combination, but it is amply demonstrated in this fascinating set of essays’.

– Jeremy Begbie, Duke Divinity School, Duke University

‘Emerging from a theological symposium and an art exhibition, the essays in this book show in glorious profusion and profundity the marks of this double origin. Theologians, artists, literary scholars, and musicians combine to bear witness to a world that is broken and yet is also the stage for a decisive event of divine love and healing. These are essays full of insights about order and disorder, beauty and tragedy. Their achievement is to make the reader think and, above all, imagine’.

– Paul S. Fiddes, University of Oxford

When the book becomes available, I’ll be sure to let readers here at Per Crucem ad Lucem know.

Two conferences to note

AquinasThe department of theology at Durham University is hosting a one-day colloquium (13 June) on Ecumenical Readings of Aquinas. It will include presentations by Andrew Davison, Christopher Insole, Marcus Plested and Lewis Ayres. Details here.

The Australian Catholic University is organising a conference titled ‘Addressing the Sacred through Literature and the Arts’ (2-3 August). The conference will aim to ‘address acts of creation and co-creation and encourage a dialogue between artists, scholars and audiences in a mutual exploration of the sacred’. Keynote speakers are Amanda Lohrey, Kevin Hart and Rosemary Crumlin. Details here.

For details about other theology conferences, visit here.

On having triple vision

MirrorWhile their respective projects are not always as divorced from one another as is sometimes suggested, it would be fair to say that theologians and artists do not always share the same concerns. That said, I suspect that every reader of the Book of Psalms will have sensed something germane to the vocation of both theologian and artist. Both are concerned, it seems to me, with a deep commitment to fostering and sharpening a triple vision—to take seriously what has been, what will be, and what is contemporary. (Another way of thinking about this is to simply take the journey with St Paul through Romans 5 to 8.) And theology, like art, responds to that triple awareness, resists the temptation to dissect the tri-part vision, and keeps asking—in its own particular way and with its own particular tongue—the foundational questions for all being; namely, who is Jesus Christ, and what has God done, what is God doing, and what has God promised to do in him?

Put otherwise, both art and theology properly seek to speak about what our eyes have seen, about what our ears have heard, about what our lips have tasted, and about what our hands have touched. And both are equally concerned with the matter of hope—about what our eyes hope to see, our ears hope to hear, our lips hope to taste, and our hands hope to touch. And both are concerned too to be attentive to the immediate, to what is, to those realities contemporary to our senses. So art and theology are fixed on a triple vision—of attention to what is behind and before and over the horizon—a vision grounded in the history of God’s own past, future and contemporaneity.

Theatrical Theology: Conversations on Performing the Faith

The Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts (University of St Andrews) is hosting a conference on the theme Theatrical Theology: Conversations on Performing the Faith, held in St Andrews on 15-17 August 2012. Here’s the blurb:

Influenced and inspired by Hans Urs von Balthasar’s seminal work in The Theo-Drama, a growing number of contemporary scholars in various theological disciplines are discovering the potential for interdisciplinary conversation between theology and theatre. From a theological perspective, there are several reasons why drama and theatre present themselves as particularly fitting conversation partners, including the inherently dramatic form of God’s revelation in word and deed, the role of Scripture as a text which invites performance rather than passivity, faithful action as both the goal and means of theological understanding, the public and communal nature of theology, and the indeterminacy, provisionality, and ‘improvised’ nature of the theological task. For its part, theatre has always been compelled to acknowledge a debt to its ancient and longstanding entanglements with religious and theological perspectives, and may have much to gain from the process of revisiting and responding to these, not least in their present-day Christian form.

The task of pursuing a serious and constructive interdisciplinary exchange between theatre and theology, however, is one that has only just begun. Furthermore, suspicions persist in some theological quarters regarding the value of interdisciplinary approaches to theology as such, and towards theatre in particular which, among the arts, has experienced a particularly volatile relationship with the Church across the centuries. In response to all of this, Theatrical Theology: Conversations on Performing the Faith will seek to demonstrate the fruitfulness for constructive Christian theology and theatre alike of pursuing the conversation further, tracing some of the advances that have already been made, and identifying new challenges and opportunities still to be reckoned with as the interaction continues and develops further.

Our plenary speakers are among those whose work has already embarked upon the conversation between theology and theatre, including Shannon Craigo-Snell (Louisville Seminary), David Cunningham (Hope College), Jim Fodor (Bonaventure) Timothy Gorringe (Exeter), and Ivan Khovacs (Canterbury Christ Church). In addition to these plenary presentations, there will be several short paper sessions on the conference theme. Furthermore, it is expected that the conference programme will include conversations with theatre practitioners and a specially staged theatrical performance.

Short papers proposals are invited on the conference theme, including the following topics:

      • Theatrical models and metaphors in Christian theology
      • Character formation for life and the stage
      • Ethics, improvisation, and performative wisdom
      • Christian practices and theatrical skills
      • Scripture as dramatic text
      • Liturgy, worship, and performance
      • Theodramatic ecclesiology and company life
      • Mission and audience participation
      • Stage, place and contextual theology
      • Embodiment and performing the faith

Proposals should be for 20-minute papers to be followed by 10 minutes for questions. Please include in the proposal your name, institution, paper title, and abstract (not exceeding 200 words). Paper proposals will be considered immediately, and please send submissions by email to Theatrical.Theology@st-andrews.ac.uk before the deadline 15 June, 2012. More information regarding conference proceedings and registration will be available soon at www.theatricaltheology.co.uk.

To Mend the World: gratitude

Those for whom Per Crucem ad Lucem is a regular stopping place will know that recent months have seen me involved in birthing a twin project called To Mend the World. With the exhibition now in full swing (at the Temple Gallery) and the conference furniture packed away, it’s good to be able to pause a while, to claim some space to do an initial reflection. It has been a wonderful and wonderfully-full two days.

It has certainly been a privilege to be part of a small band who together envisioned the conference, whose energy made it possible, and whose commitment to the conversation between art and theology is long and outstanding. We had a great line up of speakers who, via some wonderfully-stimulating presentations, modelled what the organisers of the conference had hoped – a humble and respectful but no less critical and intelligent conversation by artists and theologians around the conference theme of ‘Tikkun olam’. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who registered for the conference – around double what we had initially anticipated – plus a number of welcomed-walk ins too, all of whom engaged in the conversations with enthusiasm and grace. Like every conference of which I’ve been a part, this one too provided opportunity to re-connect with friends, to finally put some faces to names, and to meet in-the-flesh those with whom one has only ever ‘met’ in e-land. Of this latter category, it was really great to finally meet Paul Fromont, with whom I enjoyed a very rewarding conversation and my first pint of Moe Methode.

An event of this kind is an all-too-rare thing, and its happening has been both a real joy and a long-time goal for me personally. I hope that all who attended left the event as encouraged, challenged and enriched as I was by the encounter.

Speaking of theology and the arts, here’s a few recent links of interest:

‘To Mend the World’: conference and exhibition

I want to give the ‘To Mend the World’ conference and exhibition one final plug. The conference runs from 29–30 July, and the exhibition from 29 July through to 6 August. It really is shaping up to be a very exciting twin-project, with an impressive line-up of speakers and artists. Registration for the conference has exceeded expectation, and is still open if you’re keen to attend.

Dunedin to host two theology conferences

There can be little doubt that the 5-month delay of the parousia (until 21 October) is principally so that Dunedin – the global centre for theology, semi-decent coffee, and steep streets – can serve as host to two planned theological conferences.

The first, from July 29–30, is a conference on theology and art titled ‘To Mend the World’. The keynote speaker will be Professor Bill Dyrness from Fuller Theological Seminary and the conference will include an exhibition on the conference theme at the Temple Gallery, and a special screening of ‘The Insatiable Moon’ followed by discussion with the writer Mike Riddell. Further details here.

The second conference, to be held from September 2–3, will offer a Christian response to the phenomenon of  ‘The New Atheism’ as represented by writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. This conference, ‘The New Atheism: A Christian Response’, will be jointly hosted by the Faraday Institute at Cambridge University and the University of Otago. Further details here.

To Mend the World: a confluence of theology and the arts

The sixteenth-century Jewish mystic, Isaac Luria, made much of the notion of tikkun olam, a phrase which we might translate as ‘to mend the world’. Luria believed that the Creator of all things, in deciding to create a world, drew in – contracted – the divine breath in order to make room for the creation coming into being. In this enlarged space, the Creator then set vessels and poured into them the radiance of the divine light. But the light was too brilliant for the vessels, causing them to shatter and scatter widely. Since then, the vocation given to human person has consisted of picking up and to trying to mend or refashion the shards of creation.

Tikkun olam is also the theme of a conference and exhibition that I’m involved in organising, and which will take place in Dunedin this July. It is shaping up to be a very exciting twin-project, with an impressive line-up of speakers and artists. Registration for the conference has exceeded expectation for this stage so far out from the date, is still open, and there’s still some time to get in on the ‘early-bird’ rate.

Trevor Hart on Science, Faith, the Arts, God and the Imagination

trevor-hartThe Centre for Public Christianity has made available four short video conversations filmed with Trevor Hart when Trevor was in Sydney last year to deliver the 22nd Annual New College Lectures at the University of New South Wales. (These talks are available for MP3 download here). Trevor is always worth listening too, and the videos are available here:

Around blogdom …

  1. “The Center of the Whole Bible” (Romans 3:21-26): audio | video
  2. “The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb” (Revelation 12): audio | video
  3. “A Miracle Full of Surprises” (John 11): audio | video
  4. “Why Doubt the Resurrection of Jesus” (John 20:24-31)
  5. “The Ironies of the Cross” (Matthew 27:27-51)

Trevor Hart: ‘God and the Artist: Human Creativity in Theological Perspective’

Trevor Hart recently gave the 22nd Annual New College Lectures at the University of New South Wales. The three (exceptional) talks are now available for MP3 download:

Tuesday 2nd September: ‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet': divine copyright and the dangers of ‘strong imagination’

Wednesday 3rd September: The ‘heart of man’ and the ‘mind of the maker': Tolkien and Sayers on imagination and human artistry

Thursday 4th September: Givenness, grace, and gratitude: creation, artistry and eucharist

Faith in the Frame

On Sunday 31 August, the UK TV station ITV will air the first in a 10-part series on religious art. The series is called Faith in the Frame. The TimesOnline have also run a story on it.

Each each episode will focus on one painting. The ten chosen are:

The Resurrection, Cookham, by Stanley Spencer

The White Crucifixion, by Marc Chagall

The Massacre Of The Innocents, by Pieter Breughel

The Wenhaston Doom, Anonymous

The Crucifixion In The Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grünewald

The Arezzo Frescoes, by Piero della Francesca

The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymous Bosch

The Upper Room, by Chris Ofili [The NT Times ran an interesting article on this piece here]

Lux Eterna, by Ana Maria Pacheco

The Mystic Nativity, by Botticelli

Alongside presenter Melvyn Bragg,  each programme will involve two or three invited guests who will offer their own refections on the work. These guest include:

Jonathan Jones – art critic for The Guardian

Tim Marlow – writer and broadcaster

Antony Sutch – Franciscan monk and broadcaster

Imtiaz Dharker – poet and artist

Richard Harries – former bishop of Oxford

Sarah Dunant – novelist and broadcaster

Howard Jacobson – novelist

Jackie Wullschlager – art critic for the Financial Times

Rowan Williams – Archbishop of Canterbury

Andrew Graham-Dixon – art expert, broadcaster and writer

Joanna Woodall – expert on Northern Renaissance art at The Courtauld Institute

Martin Kemp – Professor of Art History at Oxford University

Michael Berkeley – composer and broadcaster

Eamon Duffy – Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University

Ekow Eshun – Artistic Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts

John Harvey – Professor of Art at the University of Wales


Makoto Fujimura on art, evil and hope

‘… I find that the theological answer for suffering is not really an answer at all. Rather, the Bible is about looking at evil square in the face and calling it “evil.” All of my work inevitably comes to the questions of wrestling with the question of evil and hope. Of the different ways to address the problem, I think the most effective approach is through the arts, because the question itself is not, fundamentally, a rational question. You need the world of imagination – the language of art – in order to be convincing in wrestling with it. Lamentations is a path to understanding this issue. We in the West don’t know how to lament … I see my art as part of the river of God, made up of God’s tears, which I have in common with a broken world. Rather than offering an idealized landscape for people to look to as an escape from reality, I paint in the ashes. Out of the ashes. From the ashes. And I’m not offering false hope, nor am I offering a nihilistic spiral of despair. Rather, I’m interpreting a longing that is deeply hopefully [sic] and real’. – Wresting With Evil and Hope‘.

I’ve long revered In a (so-far) four-part interview (i, ii, iii, iv) in which he reflects on the significant impact of Nick Wolterstorff’s wonderful work – Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic observes how Wolterstorff’s work is concerned with issues of justice, and with the world’s brokenness. He suggests that art is a fitting medium for mediating conversation about these things. Insofar as art might serve in this capacity, it is, he says, ‘a means for rehumanizing the world’.

In response to the question of what might be the artists’ responsibility towards this end of repairing and rehumanising human culture and the world, and whether Wolterstorff places any such responsibility on artists themselves, he says ‘Yes, and no. Nick is one of the few people who talks about an artist’s responsibility as not the opposite of freedom, but rather that an artist’s freedom is connected to his responsibility in society. To Nick, they’re not disjointed’. he world is drawn to that work which seeks to transform culture’, and to speak of our need to ‘love offensively’.

While it’s certainly not always the case thatto seek those things which transform culture, I thank God for those moments (even in me) when such a reality is realised; for this too is a sign that the kingdom of God is among us, the kingdom which indeed confronts us with an offensive love.